Breaking Our Silence About the Temple

I start writing a lot of blog posts that never end up published here. (Twelve finished posts a year is not enough to contain all of the thoughts I start writing about but never complete!) One of these happened last fall when I stumbled across one of my favorite young women leaders from the ward I grew up in on Facebook. I loved her so much, and I have a very specific memory of her during a combined primary meeting the first week of January, 1990. I know the date because the primary president stood at the front of the room and said, “Can you believe this is the first week of church in a brand new DECADE?!” I turned around and saw my future leader, this beautiful beaming woman, smiling and putting her friendly hand on the knee of the child next to her and silently mouthing an enthusiastic “wow!”.

Eleven years passed, and in 2002, I went through the temple. At that time, we did the initiatory with no clothing on at all except for a light shield with open sides. The temple workers would reach underneath to anoint our bodies with oil with no warning beforehand. Women still veiled their faces, and we were all placed under covenant to hearken to our husbands, even if we were single women who never intended to marry. We were offered the opportunity to leave the endowment session before undertaking any covenants, but we weren’t told what they were going to be. If we stayed and didn’t like the covenants, it was too late. No one showed us what our new underwear would look or feel like, although many of us had family and friends who wore garments and we’d seen peaks of them. (Or like me, I’d seen women changing in the locker room at BYU in and out of the long white undergarments and been surprised they were allowed to wear them so openly.) The temple was a complete mystery, shrouded in silence and an uncertainty of what we were allowed to discuss without invoking the wrath of God. In general we just didn’t talk about it at all – before, during or after we went.

Around 2006 they changed the initiatory to no longer be performed naked. Temple patrons were now instructed to wear their garments underneath the shield, and temple workers simply anointed the head with oil, not their bodies. I was startled the first time I went to do this type of work (over a lunch break from my job, because initiatories were short and could be performed in a limited time). They’d just made the change and instructed all of us to leave our garments on. I honestly felt uncomfortable because I assumed it HAD to be done nude or they wouldn’t have ever chosen it like that in the first place. The fact that they could just switch something in a temple ceremony willy nilly was disconcerting to me, and I secretly longed for them to go back to the naked version for that very reason.

Years down the road, I learned about the other significant changes that had happened in the temple at the beginning of 1990. I immediately thought back to the primary meeting the first week of the new decade and realized that all of the women in that room (including my favorite leader) had been attending the old ceremonies up until that week. I was shocked. Women had been put under covenant to “obey” their husband, not just to “hearken” to him like I had been. I was even more stunned to learn that the ambiguous and confusing hand signals and signs I’d been taught to make were relics of a much darker history of blood oaths and temple patrons covenanting to die gruesome self inflicted deaths rather than reveal secrets of the temple. Those women in my ward who I admired so much went through the temple with all of that, but they’d kept totally silent about it to me before and after I went through the temple myself.

The unfinished blog post I started writing last fall was about my feelings of immense betrayal from these women. I looked more of them up on Facebook and found the familiar (just older) faces of these primary teachers and young women leaders. Why hadn’t they warned me what the temple would actually be like in all of the many hours of lessons they’d taught me? Why hadn’t they followed up with me after I went through to make sure I was okay? How could they have been my spiritual advisors throughout all of my childhood and youth and yet never discussed this huge event in my religious life in anything other than extremely vague references and confusing metaphors? I became emotional with my frustration towards them. How could they have done this to me when I trusted them so completely?

I put that blog post on the shelf with dozens of other half-written pieces that will probably never be completed.

But recently a former young woman of mine from the ward I’d lived in as a newlywed sent me a message after a few years of being out of touch. I’d attended her wedding reception around the year 2016 right after she’d been sealed to her husband in the temple as a very young bride. I distinctly remember two things about her reception: 1. Being surprised that such a vivacious young girl had chosen early marriage instead of a mission, and 2. Feeling a little gutted that she’d just been through the temple and I couldn’t talk to her about any of it. (I thought to myself, “If I ever told her how it made me feel, she’d think less of me.”)

Not long after her temple marriage though, this young woman left the church. She has since become somewhat vocal about her anger and the trauma she experienced growing up LDS, and has changed her entire appearance and persona to be the opposite of a mild mannered, temple going young woman. She’s covered in tattoos, loves low cut clothing and short hemlines, and takes selfies with lots of cleavage. I thought, wow – I absolutely could’ve talked to her about her experience in the temple back at the time of her wedding and she would’ve loved a sympathetic ear! It’s unlikely she was able to find it in her very orthodox and conservative family. I had wrongly assumed that she’d loved her experience in the temple and would cut me off as an adult in her life if I’d said anything about the temple or church in a less than positive light.

This wasn’t an unfounded fear. You see, I have a very confusing relationship with several of my former young women. Years ago I was part of Ordain Women (read about it here: Five Years Ago I Led Ordain Women Into a Priesthood Session), and several of them blocked or deleted me on social media at that point. Another (the daughter of a member of our bishopric) announced her marriage and it wasn’t going to be in the temple. (Her sister was one of the girls who had unfriended me online, and that made me feel very nervous about where I stood with the entire family.) I wanted to talk to this former young woman and say, “Is your civil wedding ceremony because a bishop said you weren’t “worthy” to go to the temple? If yes, that’s a bunch of crap! You’re worthy of everything!! Or do you not believe enough to want a temple wedding? Does your fiance not believe enough to want one? Do you not believe at all? WHAT IS HAPPENING AND HOW CAN I HELP?!” Instead of opening up to her, I finally sent a text that said something like, “You know, if I could do my wedding over I wish I could have a regular wedding just like you’re having. And then I wanted to get sealed in the temple later on down the road, I could’ve. I just want you to know I’m very happy for you!” She replied with something very vague like, “Thanks!”, and I have wondered for years (because as far as I know, she’s never gone to the temple to get sealed) what her religious situation is. We have stayed friends and stayed in contact – but I have no idea what she feels about the church or how to ask.

Last year another former young woman admitted during the anonymous “Ask me Anything” trend on social media that she and her husband were reevaluating their Mormon beliefs after a break during covid, and didn’t think they’d be returning. I sent her an anonymous message of support and love for her decision, and she shared my response on her page with hearts surrounding it. I was too scared to tell her it was from me, her former YW leader. I noticed another young woman liked a post from that first young woman who left the church and sports tattoos and low cut blouses, where she called out the hypocrisy of people calling her to repentance for tattoos now telling her she should be excited that the new Strength of Youth pamphlet no longer prohibits them. I thought, “Okay, wait…is the girl who liked that post not active anymore either?” I tried to look her up in her recently temple married brother’s wedding posts to determine if she went to the sealing or not. Was her dress garment appropriate? I didn’t want to judge her, I just wanted to know where she was on the spectrum of belief!

I thought about another young woman who reached out to me years ago when I was actively participating with Ordain Woman to tell me how much she loved, respected and looked up to me. This was at the same time other young women were blocking me for my participation, so it was clearly a sign of solidarity. But after all of these years, I still don’t know her adult position with the church. Does she attend? Does she believe? Does she want to talk to someone about her temple experience?

I thought to myself, “Why can’t I just ask my former young women these questions? Why are we friends on Facebook, liking each other’s posts and commenting on new babies and vacations, occasionally running into each other in person and enthusiastically greeting each other with big hugs, but always wondering just below the surface, “Were you okay with the temple? Were you uncomfortable with what happened to you there? Do you have questions that don’t have answers?” I never reach out and ask though, because I’m afraid of the answer. What if they reject me and I lose our relationship by asking them these questions? I know that’s a very real possibility from my own experience.

And then it hit me – this is the same reason why my leaders never talked to me about the temple in the 90s. I was a faithful Latter-day Saint young woman about to attend the temple for the first time. If they had tried to talk to me about any of their own concerns about the temple before I was ready to hear it, I would’ve cut them off from my life.

This was and still is the pattern – the temple is uncomfortable for so many of us, yet we never talked to our young women’s leaders (and they never talked to us) about it for fear of rejection. Then in turn, we don’t dare talk to our young women about it, either. We just keep acting like it’s a great experience for everyone. I am so tired of this! The secrecy and mystery of the temple caused me to have a distant relationship with women I loved who came before me, and now it’s causing the same issue with those coming after me. This is a cycle of silence that absolutely must end. Our religious community needs to grow into the maturity required to honestly ask each other questions like, “Hey, do you like these temple clothes? If you could change anything about the endowment, what would you change? Are you choosing not to get married in the temple because you just don’t want to wear garments? That’s totally reasonable, no problem.”

The temple endowment keeps changing. If it can change so much – then we ought to be allowed to change along with it, too. Let’s end this awful cycle of silence from each generation of women to the next and open the floodgates for an actual discussion about the temple rituals. What do you love, what are you confused about, and what do you absolutely hate?


  1. So much betrayal trauma. I too, am ready to end the silence. At the same time, I admit I am not ready to talk openly how what I love, am confused about, and hate about the temple. It’s scary because it seems there is a high expectation that everyone should love the temple and I have felt ostracized from a good friend this past year about church differences. I agree, it’s time to end the silence. But I’m not exactly sure how to go about doing that without dumping my stuff on someone else.

    • When you step back and look at it objectively, it’s hard to imagine anyone NOT being alarmed by many parts of the temple. (Where else in life would we be okay with naked touching?) Yet we are only allowed to be positive about all of it, or completely silent. Anything other than that means we are labeled “disrespectful”, even if all we are doing is asking someone to explain to us what it meant!

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful post. With people like you speaking up, there’s hope that further generations can be spared temple trauma.

    May I share a male’s perspective? I was endowed in the 1970s, back during the blood oath, naked anointing days. I was 19 years old, but even at that naive age I was surprised and confused that women were put under covenant to obey their husbands. It just felt wrong. But I was already a feminist. I became a feminist at 16 in 1974 when the church fought against and defeated the equal rights amendment. I was at odds with every Mormon I knew over that.

    In the 1980s when I attended my first ever sealing ceremony, (my own sealing was the first I’d ever seen), I was again shocked that I “took” my wife and she “gave” herself to me. Again, I was at odds with every Mormon I knew, including my wife. She had been raised by a mother who read “The Fascinating Woman” and she had, at her mother’s encouragement, read “The Fascinating Girl”. We both felt cheated for the first several years of our now 42 year marriage; she was denied an in charge patriarchal husband and I was denied an equal partner. Thankfully, we learned to set aside the church’s misguided relationship commands and have become one.

    You asked what do I love about the temple? Being sealed to an equal eternal partner.

    What do (did) I hate about it? Pretty much everything else.

    What was I confused about? You name it, I was confused about it. The main anxiety I had during my first endowment session was they said there were things I would “be expected to give [repeat] at a certain point in the endowment.” I honestly assumed I was going to have to stand up in front of everyone and repeat from memory everything they were telling me. For an introvert, that was horrifying.

    As for the naked anointing, having been molested from age 2-12, that created serious trauma for me. I’ve never done that again since that first horrific time.

    Yesterday was our stake conference. The stake president’s message was about attending the temple. The usual guilt tactics were used. “Most members of the church would be thrilled to have a temple only 45 min away, so there’s no excuse for you to not be attending often.” And “Attending the temple once per month is the bare minimum.” That kind of guilting shows how many leaders ignore the individuality of church members. We should all dress the same, groom the same, think the same, pray the same, worship the same, and above all, we should all “love the temple” the temple the same. Well, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a blue shirt to church, or saying “you” instead of “thee”, and there’s nothing wrong with not loving the temple.

    • Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience! If only that stake president realized how many people are filled with nervousness that a temple is built close to them because they will no longer have an excuse not to go frequently. Not everyone wants to go to the temple more often!

    • I was also trying (and failing) to memorize everything! I was so worried about “passing” that I hardly paid attention to anything else.

  3. After my endowment in 1996, I felt SO ashamed. I wore the shield naked, too. I thought I’d been molested by an old lady and I felt responsible for it. I didn’t know everyone had and I couldn’t ask anyone because it was supposed to be sacred and because my shame prevented me from speaking out. The church is so vocal about “purity” and teaches things like, “women should try to recognize the degree to which they are responsible for their rapes” (Elder Richard G. Scott), so is it any wonder that I felt the way I did? I went through the endowment ceremony feeling so icky and it just kept getting worse with every new “covenant”. My fiancee and his dad were seated across the room. My grandparents and parents and MIL were there. I rammed my panic down deep and went through the motions so as not to disappoint my entire family and ruin my wedding day.

    Later, I tried to talk to a few people about my experience and why the temple felt so icky to me and was gaslit. My husband told me I had misinterpreted the initiatory. My mother told me I was making mountains out of molehills and that I had always been overly emotional. Nearly everyone told me I just needed to attend more frequently so I could better understand the endowment, as if my concerns could just be chalked up to stupidity.

    How on Earth did the women in the original endowment ceremony, who were bathed completely naked — no shield provided — feel?

    One thing is for sure. That abuse will not happen to MY children!

    • Greetings from Mexico (sorry for my english). First of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Some of us have mixed feelings about the temple and think that may be no one would understand. I would love to share lots of things but I just realize how scare i am about writing my heart out because I feel Im betraying the church and feel ashame…even about reading your post!! (lol)

      I hope one day I have the guts like you💜

  4. I too felt so betrayed by my former YW leaders when I went through the temple! I think you are right about the cycle of silence and why it needs to end.

  5. Forty-five years ago, I went through for the first time. No temple prep at all, other than “it’s so special, you’ll love it,” Nope and nope. It was embarrassing to be mostly naked, touched without knowing how “far” it was going to go, talked to as if I were a prize for a RM, vowing to obey but with mental fingers crossed, and yuck, garments. Homely, borrowed dress, no makeup, non-styled hair, because those were worldly. I was traumatized, and have never particularly enjoyed going. The rare times that I could go, I generally loved the idea of what we were doing for others, but always it was a relief to leave the building. I am no longer willing to submit myself to the mental/emotional/spiritual abuse that the temple means to me, so I don’t go to interviews about beverages and underwear. I know now that the Lord knows me and my big non-member, extended family. We don’t need Mormon ordinances to be together on the other side of the veil. The very idea that some man that I don’t know, that my family has never vowed to follow, has some magic ju-ju that will keep us separate from God and each other is a thought that makes reason stare.

  6. I think we don’t speak up because we don’t absolutely know whether this will be what the women in our lives need or will be the last thing they need, so we quasi- (and not quasi) regretfully keep our silence.

    The temple isn’t the only topic where this applies, actually.

    “If they had tried to talk to me about any of their own concerns… before I was ready to hear it, I would’ve cut them off from my life.”

    I can add the following:
    * Childbirth
    * Spousal Care-giving & Boundaries
    * “Performing” Gender in general

  7. You put into words everything I feel about the temple. I haven’t been back since my sealing in 2019 and honestly don’t plan to go back, despite the pressure from my family and the conviction of my husband that he wants to go back to church and the temple regularly. If someone had explained to me what the endowment was before I went through my first session, I don’t know if I would have gone. My strongest memory from my first session was sitting there during the prayer circle and thinking, “Oh, THIS is why people think we’re a cult.” Thank you for your words.

  8. I was blessed with a wonderful fiance who helped me avoid the initiatory trauma many experienced. My mom told me to just focus on the blessings during the initiatory. The way she said it freaked me out. So I told my fiance what she said. He told me exactly what was going to happen so I wasn’t alarmed and scared. I didn’t go back to do initiatory until they made the change.

    The temple is such a foreign form of worship to us. I have personally come to love the temple and I completely understand why many don’t.

  9. Amen to breaking the silence. I was lucky enough to have a bishop who thought the manual for the temple prep class was insufficient, and encouraged our newly called temple prep teacher to redesign it. She did, they discussed it, went back and forth on a few things, and the upshot was, it was the best class I think I’ve ever taken at church. It was a while ago now so I don’t remember anymore everything we talked about, but I do remember very clearly the second-to-last class where we were told step-by-step what to expect when we went to the temple, including the pre-2006 initiatory. I also remember that on my first temple visit, by the time the whole thing was over, I was so ready to be done, but there hadn’t been any real surprises. I would hate to have done that without any prep.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this. I, too, have several half-written blogs. One of them is spilling the beans / shining a light on my pre-1990 temple experience. I will finish it and publish someday so that my voice can be a witness for the spiritual abuse that so many of us are survivors of.

    As I was reading your thoughtful blog post, I thought of other reasons why your leaders didn’t warn you. (Coming from my point of view.)
    – They had taken a blood oath, a death oath, not to reveal the temple secrets. It was fear of harm coming to them if they said anything at all about what went on in the temple.
    – Like all of us, they were conditioned to believe that the temple experience would be the most important, sacred thing that had happened to them. And they kept telling themselves that for decades, and they kept returning to the temple to ease their guilt, to demonstrate obedience and faith. If they were able to be honest with themselves about how disturbing the temple experience was, they could be viewed as not worthy, not faithful.

    As for me, I didn’t cry about it until 30 years later when I fully realized what the temple experience meant, especially for women.

    I now am feeling compassion for my mother and grandmothers who I wish could have warned me. But honestly, they couldn’t. The cult is real. Shame and fear are real. Control and spiritual abuse are real.

  11. thanks for the article—reminded me of when i first went. i didnt know anything before going. it didnt make sense. suddenly it was ok to not be modest, ok to wear a green apron and not all white, ok for secret handshakes and pass words, ok for symbolic clothing even though other churches with symbolic clothing were criticicized, and ok for repetitive prayers, etc, when again other churches were criticized for that. seems like leaders label something “sacred” if they dont want anyone to discuss.

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